Trust Your Gut: 6 Ways to Keep Your Gut—and Your Brain—Happy
Ever sense that “trusting your gut” or “butterflies in your stomach” are more than just old wives’ tales? Mounting scientific evidence suggests that you’re absolutely right! Because when you go with your gut, you tap into what has become known as your second brain.
Some find this a little creepy, but for me, it’s totally fascinating. I’ve always believed that what you eat affects how you feel and how you think, and recently, scientists have found this to be true in a very literal way.
Your enteric nervous system, the scientific term for your second brain, is made up of 100 million nerve cells in the walls of your digestive system. While there’s still much to discover about how this brain in the belly communicates with the three-pound dome atop our necks (the ultimate command center for the nervous system), revolutionary research (1.) links our gut health with mood and emotional wellbeing—and yes, even the way we think.
In fact, an estimated 90 percent (or more!) of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin is manufactured in our digestive tracts. In other words, when you improve your gastrointestinal health, you’re simultaneously improving your mental health, too!
Eat Real Food: Plant fiber is the preferred food of healthy gut bacteria. Strive to eat foods that are high in inulin, a form of soluble dietary fiber that is naturally found in leeks, garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus, lentils, slightly green bananas and oats. This can help to optimize your gut environment and allow good bacteria to thrive. Of course, you already know to avoid processed foods. After all, our bodies don’t recognize them as “food,” anyway!
Live Dirty; Eat Clean: My good friend Dr. Robynne Chutkan, author of The Microbiome Solution—I developed all of the recipes for the book!—advocates a “live dirty, eat clean” philosophy to build up beneficial gut bacteria. Super sterile tendencies aren’t helpful to our gut health. So go ahead: hand-wash your dishes. Open your windows. Put down the sweet-smelling sanitizer. It’s okay to get a little dirty!
Fertilize Your Microbiome: Once you create a fertile ground for good bacteria to grow in your gut, consider adding a probiotic “fertilizer” to get your gut garden to really flourish. This is especially important if you don’t eat fermented food regularly. Keep in mind that there are thousands of different kinds of bacteria in your gut, and choose a probiotic from a reputable brand that has a potency count of 50 billion or more.
Trust Your Gut: Since every gut is 100% one-of-a-kind, there’s no single solution that works for everyone. But you can identify the foods that make your gut happy. To determine ingredients that cause uncomfortable symptoms versus those that keep you humming happily along, keep a food diary. By playing nutrition detective, you’ll discover what your gut has been telling you all along.
Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics: Antibiotics are frequently prescribed, and sometimes necessary, to kill off bad bugs. But they wreak havoc on our microbiomes and kill our good microbes along with the baddies. We’re also exposed to antibiotics in the meat we eat since 80% of the supply is treated with antibiotics. If you eat animal protein or dairy, choose organic, antibiotic-free products when possible.
Let It Go: Easier said than done, but: releasing ongoing stress is a great way to protect your gut. Excess anxiety can reduce the diversity of bacteria and harm good bacteria in your gut. Exercise is not only a proven stress reducer, but also helps keep your microbiome healthier. Strive to get plenty of sleep (7-9 hours a night), and practice yoga, meditation, or deep-breathing techniques to keep your stress levels low.
When in doubt, think of the satisfying feeling of having just finished a nourishing meal in good company. It’s not just your stomach that feels great; it’s your brain, too. All the more reason to harness the power of the mind-gut connection!
More on Gut Health from Dr. Mark Hyman - Why Is Gut Health So Important? How to Fix Your Gut Bacteria and Lose Weight.
Want to learn more about yoga and healthy digestion? Study with YogaUOnline and Dr. Baxter Bell - Yoga for Digestive Health.
Reprinted with permission from Kale and Chocolate.
Elise Museles is an attorney turned Certified Eating Psychology & Nutrition Expert and creator of Kale & Chocolate. A writer, speaker, teacher and healthy lifestyle advocate, she empowers people to reset their relationship with food & their bodies—by creating a happy, healthy, and ridiculously delicious Food Story. Elise is also the author of the recently released book, Whole Food Energy, (Barron’s Educational Series, January 2016) and shares daily inspiration (and mouth-watering photos!) on FaceBook and Instagram.